Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys — what he would prefer to be described as a “pro-western fraternal organization” — is adamant that his stable of “western chauvinists” aren’t bigots.
McInnes is the premier salesman of the “either-Nazi-or-not” narrative; it’s his primary defense against critics of his organization. The reality, however, is much more complex for the Proud Boys and their notably slipshod vetting procedures and porous boundaries.
A cursory glance at the rosters of a few of the Proud Boys most established chapters raises questions about whether current and former members whose affiliations completely contradict McInnes’s ‘either-or’ binary are the product of honest or willful ignorance.
McInnes denies any connection between his group and the far right, dismissing the fact that they show up to the same events, take fashion cues from each other, read the same books, sympathize with each other’s viewpoints — including, at times, anti-Semitism — and joust in the shadows of the same windmills.
After a series of reports linked the Proud Boys to the racist Alt-Right — whose members frequently rub shoulders with the Proud Boys at protests around the country — McInnes took to the Rebel Media YouTube channel to defend against the “dinosaur media’s” unfair treatment of his fraternity.
Denials aside, McInnes has himself, at times, perpetuated racist memes such as in a tweet from June 26 in which he echoed one of the pithy memes of contemporary white supremacists, “white genocide.”
McInnes’s tweet exemplifies the space that he has carved out for his Proud Boys, where the edgewaters of paleo-conservatism, ‘soft’ white nationalism, and the so-called intellectual racism of the Alt-Right are confluent.
Despite McInnes’s protestations on social media and elsewhere, he’s devised, perhaps inadvertently, the most fertile “in-real-life” recruiting ground for white nationalists and anti-Semites within today’s organized far-right.
And some of its leaders, like Mike “Enoch” Peinovich, have openly celebrated what amounts to a “western chauvinist” farm league from which they are happy to call up new followers.
Birth of the Western Chauvinists
McInnes introduced the Proud Boys in an article for Taki’s Magazine — a paleo-conservative online journal with a contributor list full of white nationalist leaders including Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor, Peter Brimelow, Paul Ray Ramsey and Kevin DeAnna.
The article opens with a depiction of a Proud Boys meet-up in Tribeca — the second ever — filled with drinking, fighting, and reading aloud from Pat Buchanan’s Death of the West. The book is subtitled, How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil our Culture and Civilization, and describes an apocalyptic future for western (read: white) culture due to declining white birth rates and immigration.
It is also specifically cited by leaders of the Alt-Right — including Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Worker Party and Bradley Dean Griffin of Occidental Dissent — as a text that brought them into white nationalism. The book was an important gateway to White Nationalism 1.0 — a period when the movement was dominated by “micro-führers” on anonymous vBulletin forums and social media couldn’t be utilized to administer red pills.
McInnes, who is a regular contributor at Taki’s Magazine — where Buchanan is also a columnist — then equates, “being proud of Western culture today [to] being a crippled, black, lesbian, communist in 1953.”
The hosts of The Right Stuff’s radio show The Daily Shoah — one of, if not the most, popular podcasts of the Alt-Right — have regularly lauded McInnes’ flagship New York chapter for its alleged anti-Semitism. Their praise is perhaps not misplaced, at least in the case of one northeastern former-Proud Boy who rapidly transformed from a “western chauvinist” into full-blown white nationalist — with a stop at a David Irving speaking event in between.
A frank exchange about the Proud Boys from the April 28, 2017, broadcast in which Peinovich and his co-hosts detail his alleged personal relationship with the New York City chapter, illustrates their cynical affection for McInnes’ project.
Caeralus Rex: Lets be honest. Let’s not bullshit. Gavin can say whatever he wants in a video about how, ‘Oh, we don’t admit Nazis in the Proud Boys,’ or whatever. Dude, all the guys, all the Alt-Lite-Knight Proud F--- or whatever that showed up to [Pikeville], if they were just hanging out at the bar with me and the guys from my pool party and they were pressed on the issue, I guarantee you that like 90% of them would tell you something along the lines of, ‘Hitler was right. Gas the Jews.’
Dunstan: I’m pretty sure we have some news for Gavin about his little organization. If he disallowed all Nazis, he’d be left with nothing but a couple of Jews.
Peinovich: Let’s breakdown the Proud Boy constituency. Now, I am friends with the New York Proud Boys. I’m good friends with the leader of the New York Proud Boys. … He’s a good guy. He’s not going to be TRS for various reasons, although he can go back last. Basically, Proud Boys is like, if you’re white and you don’t have some kind of issue like Based Chopstick man, like you have had a kid with an Asian woman or your girlfriend is Latina. … If you’re a white guy with a white girlfriend or no girlfriend, then you’re going to be TRS. You’re going to be Stormer. You’re going to be reading Stormer and listening to the Daily Shoah and loving that stuff and then you’re just a hair’s breath away from jumping into the Alt-Right and just being one of us — being a white nationalist.
The other people have certain hang-ups, and it’s personal issues. … It’s that they’re Jewish. They’re half-white. They’re mixed race or they have a non-white girlfriend or wife. That’s what it comes down to. So, at the end of the day, and I predict that a year from now Proud Boys are going to be Jews, off-whites, and race-mixers. That is who is going be a Proud Boy.
CR: All the guys that pretty much fit the description that you just gave, they’re all going to migrate to IE [Identity Evropa] or a Daily Stormer Book Club or a Pool Party from the TRS forums like I’m in, etc. That’s where they’re going to go and Gavin is going to be left with, literally, what you just described and there’s not really anything that he can do about it — because we’re taking all of his white males that aren’t worthless. We’re f------ taking all of them because they know that his organization sucks and we’re f------ awesome.
D: “It’s just, like, why go halfway when you can go all the way?
P: “Because, I mean, you’re already right wing. If you’re ready to go that far, and you’re white, and you don’t have hang-ups because of previous family relationships, and some of them might even have hang-ups because of certain relationships.”
D: I watched that video before we started … Western chauvinism is the PR c--- term that he came up with. I mean, what is that? You’re a chauvinist. That means that you’re prejudiced or whatever. You believe in the superiority of whatever that thing is and you say west, as in western civilization. What exactly is that?
P: That’s white people.
D: “You’re essentially doing white nationalism but you came up with a new name for it.”
P: Well and you came up with a name for it that doesn’t require you to commit to difficult things. The other thing about Proud Boys, at least from what I’ve seen, there are a lot of Hispanics and Latinos in the NYC Proud Boys. Now, I’ve gone and hung out with these guys. We’re not at the point where we’re sending people back, whatever, we need to build relationships and things like that. Let me tell you something. You don’t need to be 100% white to not like Jews. Like we all know this. We’ve been on 8/pol/, right? Like you really don’t.
A lot of these non-whites or half-whites or off-whites or mixed race whites or whatever, they don’t care about the same kind of taboos that white people care about and they’re just like, “F--- these K----.” Straight up. Like a lot of these Latino guys are just like, “F--- these K----. Like F--- them. … I sit down have beers with the leader of the New York City Proud Boys and all we do is talk about the f------ K----. For real.
Peinovich’s claims notably complicate the ‘either-Nazi-or-not’ binary that McInnes uses to define his own organization’s boundaries — “either-Proud Boy-or-not.” And, while Peinovich and his co-hosts have everything to gain by depicting McInnes’ Proud Boys as sympathetic allies — a claim that McInnes has rebuffed repeatedly — corroborating accounts aren’t difficult to find.
Particularly when some of the Proud Boys-NYC’s foremost members share and like the following:
Franklin Wright, digital media strategist and staff writer for the official Proud Boy Magazine, concurred by liking the tweet.
Caprio, also a staff writer, went on to share his tweet on the Facebook page of Sal Cipolla, a Proud Boy in the New York area, with the comment, “Share this with your buddy Mike” — presumably Mike “Enoch” Peinovich.
In June, Caprio penned a piece for the Proud Boys Magazine titled, “Got My Mind Set on Jews: Questioning the JQ,” in which he discusses the Alt-Right’s anti-Semitism and dismisses it as obsessive and irrelevant.
After initially establishing that he is biased in favor of Jews and refuting some generic anti-Semitic tropes, Caprio concludes by stating, “If the Alt-Right wants to discuss Jews incessantly and be cautious about them, fine — I’m not here to convince them otherwise. I just think the whole ‘JQ’ is such a waste of f------ time and completely irrelevant.”
The piece, though, betrays what’s at the heart of the Proud Boys: a desire to be as edgy as possible and an apparent willingness to wink at bigotry, while laundering elements of toxic ideologies under the cover of “western chauvinism” and free speech.
“The Proud Boys are a fraternal organization, like the Elk’s Lodge”
Take for instance Instagram user @ofashandcinder, who has at different times identified himself as “Michael” in his account biography.
In fewer than three months, he went from enthusiastically posting about his Proud Boys membership to attending a David Irving meeting, posting about Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, joining the white nationalist organization Identity Evropa (IE), and posting photographs of himself with its leader, Nathan Damigo.
His seemingly rapid transformation from “a proud western chauvinist” into an open white nationalist is either a matter of an ideological about-face — as McInnes would have his detractors believe — or a subtle descent into far-right extremism facilitated by the Proud Boys.
Eight days after posting about submitting himself to one of the Proud Boys tiered initiation rituals, called a “2nd degree,” “Michael” posted a photo of himself and a group of Proud Boys posing with Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman — the 41-year-old founder of the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights (FOAK), the most violent faction of the Proud Boys. Chapman rose to fame on a wave of enthusiasm from the Alt-Right after a video of him breaking a wooden stick over the head of an antifascist protester at a “March 4 Trump” rally in Berkeley, California, last March went viral.
Chapman, who was relegated to the Alt-Lite by the Alt-Right’s white nationalist gatekeepers, like Peinovich, is still a regular fixture at rallies across the country, particularly those expected to result in violence.
Shortly after, “Michael” began posting even more radical images including a quote from Corneliu Codreanu — an ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic figure who founded Romania’s Iron Guard in 1927 — and a series of photos with David Irving, one of the most prominent Holocaust deniers. Irving’s event, which was part of a month long US lecture tour, was closed to the general public, meaning a relative outsider such as “Michael” almost certainly had to prove his bona fides.
Around the same time, “Michael” also began praising Augustus Invictus’s collection of poetry, From Sun & God’s Keep: The LSD Journals. Invictus is a fellow traveller of white nationalist circles and a regular headliner at the rash of recent Alt-Right rallies, including one attended by “Michael” in Boston on May 13.
Invictus appeared on Gavin McInnes’ Internet show on June 28, during which McInnes gave Invictus space to plug the Alt-Right’s upcoming “Unite the Right” rally. In what is a hallmark of McInnes’ style, after publicly disavowing the Charlottesville, Virginia, event a week earlier he then provided a platform for one its headliners to promote it.
The poems in Sun & God’s Keep frequently ruminate on Invictus’s own journey towards his current position as an emerging leader on the far right. The poems’ speakers also veer into extreme misogyny that, at times, even dwarfs that of the Proud Boys. One poem from From Sun & God’s Keep reads:
Jägermesiter at Dexter’s
is all fun & games
- until the wild will
every b---- at the bar
like a sea swell
begins to rise,
& your claws come out
every last motherf-----
& that luscious blonde body.
Invictus has liked and/or commented on several of “Michael’s” Instagram posts (most now deleted).
Then came a photo of Mein Kampf with the short caption, “New addition to the study.”
The majority of posts documenting “Michael’s” radicalization, or red-pilling, have since been deleted. The account then became a home for photos of him posing with Nathan Damigo, leader of IE, in an IE branded polo. Next came photos of him distributing the group’s flyers, its signature propaganda technique, other than punching female counter-protestors.
This particular case illustrates the exact phenomenon that McInnes claims doesn’t exist. The distinction between the Proud Boys and organized racism is not as black and white as he argues.
While McInnes insists that, “Nazis don’t exist,” Peinovich and his co-hosts assert that the term “western chauvinists” is nothing more than a “PR c--- term” for white nationalism. “Michael” is just one example, yes, but an example in favor of Peinovich’s conclusions about the group.
And yet, there are others.
The New York City Proud Boys held an official meeting on July 15, 2017, attended by Gabriel Brown. Brown has long associated with fringe right wing groups like the National Anarchist Tribal Alliance-New
York (NATA-NY) — an organization that was reportedly expelled from the National-Anarchism Movement for supporting President Trump and aligning itself with elements far-right. Perhaps recognizing that they have more in common than not, Brown and NATA-NY appear to have moved into alignment with the Alt-Right.
Brown has also spent time peddling “9/11 Truther” conspiracies. He is often photographed wearing t-shirts of the racist skinhead band Arresting Officers — which is unsurprising, as Brown is a close associate of the far-right, ultra-nationalist skinhead crews the 211 Bootboys (211) and Battalion 49 (B49), both which maintain ties to skinheads with extremist viewpoints on race, et al, including neo-Nazism.
True to form, McInnes defended members of the 211 Bootboys that attacked two brothers outside of a Manhattan bar back in February. One 211 member, John Young, was arrested and eventually convicted on various charges stemming from his involvement in that attack.
After a recent protest against Linda Sarsour hosted by Milo Yiannopoulus and Pamela Geller, in which McInnes and Proud Boys took part, Brown posted photographs of himself drinking with members of 211 and B49 and at least one Proud Boy, recognizable in one photograph by his red MAGA baseball cap and black Fred Perry polo with yellow piping and trademark laurel.
Mike “Enoch” Peinovich also attended that protest.
The only people who seem to be confused about the Proud Boys are the Proud Boys themselves — to the benefit of the very people that McInnes purports to distance himself from.
Take Brien James for instance.
James is the founder of the racist, skinhead Vinlanders Social Club (VSC) — notorious for its extreme hate-related violence, murders and criminal involvement with weapons and drugs — and the current Indiana state representative for the Proud Boys and FOAK.
He was also allegedly involved in nearly beating a man to death for not sieg-heiling at a party in 2000.
Another of his current ventures, American Viking Clothing, still sells white pride t-shirts, the color scheme of which is that of VSC. The back reads, “If this offends you then you’re a racist.”
In a recent video titled, “How to stop ‘punching right,’” James, who claims to have renounced white nationalism, underscores the aforementioned confusion in the Proud Boys by identifying them, FOAK, and his own organization, American Guard (formerly the Indiana Soldiers of Odin) as “constitutional nationalist organizations.”
“[An American Constitutional Nationalist] is a person who puts America first — a person who believes that there is a pathway in the original constitution that leads the country back to greatness and puts these ideals above all else. … Race, religion and other factors come secondary to the core principles regardless of our personal beliefs and preferences,” James recites to the camera.
“A white nationalist simply adds race into the equation. This can run the spectrum from someone who believes exactly like the nationalists above but is merely concerned that the white race isn’t being treated fairly to someone who calls themselves a white nationalist but is not even really an American nationalist at all due to allegiances to national socialism or support for activities that would contradict the constitution.”
James goes on to claim that white nationalists and American constitutional nationalists both fall under the Alt-Right banner. National Socialists, however, do not. James claims that he and the American Guard, therefore, will stand alongside anyone at rallies and support their groups’ rights to be there as long as they are not National Socialists.
For the pains that he goes through to draw meaningful distinctions between these camps, he and his surrogates have evidenced their own contradictions amply — whether they scorn the Constitution or are even avowed National Socialists who have declared “Death to America.”
He and members of the American Guard, for example, appeared with members of VSC at a “Make America Great Again” rally at the Indiana State House in late March. One of VSC’s slogans is “Thug Reich.”
Invictus, the Florida sergeant-at-arms of American Guard, will share the stage with Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Worker Party, an avowed national socialist organization, at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12. Another national socialist group, Vanguard America, is also among the organizing sponsors pictured on the event’s flyers.
Some American Guard members from Indiana, James’s home base, have declared they will also attend.
Months into its existence, James and the American Guard are already neck deep in hypocrisy.
Despite the confusion and hypocrisy displayed by Proud Boys like Cipolla, Caprio, Brown and James, McInnes — like a man trying to dig a hole in the middle of a river — still believes he can control the borders of his organization.
He disavowed the Charlottesville Unite the Right event back on June 21, according to an announcement on the Proud Boys website.
The statement includes a quote from internal communications with McInnes in which he states, “Been asked a lot about this ‘Unite the Right’ thing going on in August. The elders have told me to disavow. I get that it’s about free speech and we want everyone — even white nationalists — to have that right but I think it’s coming at a time when we need to distance ourselves from them. I’m not punching right. I’m just not coming to your rally, no offense.”
The statement went a step further.
“The rally is not about ‘uniting the right,’ it is an attempt to lump civic-nationalists in with ethno-nationalists in order to make them seem like the same thing. F---. THAT.”
After backlash to the original disavowal flared-up from Alt-Right circles, the statement was withdrawn and replaced with another distancing the Proud Boys from the event yet also encouraging those who “feel compelled” to attend.
McInnes drew even harder lines on Twitter regarding the Alt-Right and members of his group, stating, “For the record, #ProudBoys VA are not alt-right. Stop splitting the group [with] that shit. If you are a VA PB who is AR, you’re not a VA PB.”
But then earlier this week, FOAK officially announced over social media that it would be attending the Charlottesville, VA “Unite the Right” protest. The group’s statement included the laughable claim that “All the groups attending including F.O.A.K. have been labeled as racist while none of us are.”
Based Virtue Signaling Intensifies
Playing gatekeeper is an impossible task for McInnes — particularly when Proud Boys events can’t seem to stop attracting individuals that they claim to despise or who can’t abide by their own proclamations and avowals. Even so, it’s true that the Proud Boys have expelled fascists from their events.
Just last month, William Scott Planer — a Golden State Skinhead who has since been arrested for allegedly attacking a protestor at a white supremacist rally last July and on charges related to his alleged involvement in the vandalizing of a synagogue with anti-Semitic materials — took part in a Free Speech rally hosted by the Proud Boys-Colorado chapter.
Planer was wearing a shirt — printed in Proud Boys colors — that carried the slogan, “Proud to be a Fascist,” and a Totenkopf. Members of the Proud Boys publicly disavowed Planer on the spot.
Despite attempts to police themselves and repeated denunciations from McInnes, some Proud Boys — from the magazine staff down to the membership — can’t seem to get a handle on what constitutes their “western chauvinism” and what doesn’t.
Just as McInnes issued mixed messages to his chapters and individual members about attending the Unite the Right event in Charlottesville, some who comprise his organization appear to have no qualms with its members mixing with or even physically protecting other sectors of the far-right, whether it be at a rally or over beers.
Meanwhile, at least some Proud Boys appear to be following paths into hate groups after a gestation period in McInnes’ group, just as the hosts of The Daily Shoah suggested. As Peinovich points out on that show, for some with far-right beliefs, the Proud Boys are simply a stopover before committing to, in Peinovich’s words, actually difficult things — such as joining a hate group.
Such plausible deniability, coupled with the ready-built defense mechanism of a thin-skinned McInnes, is why his “Nazi-or-not” binary collapses under scrutiny. The Proud Boys phenomenon is far more complex than McInnes wants to admit, and that appears to be benefiting — and delighting — the leaders of the Alt-Right.